The first five times I watched Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, I walked away yearning to be just like Laurie. To have his confidence and cool and stature. And all his vests. But on the sixth watch, a year and a half after the fifth, I suddenly saw the movie differently. It wasn’t Laurie’s character I admired most – though his turns of phrase, fashion, attitude, and kindness all shout to me still. Instead, I found myself thinking about a short scene that I’d never paid much mind to before. The scene when Joe shows the Professor, Friedrich Bhaer, her published work. Nervously pacing around, biting her nail, giddy as she waits for his response to her livelihood and greatest passion.
“I think they’re not good,” the Professor says meekly after a time, looking up at Jo. “I know you have talent, which is why I’m being so blunt with you.”
Jo stares at her friend, dumbstruck for a moment, before her temper flares up and gets the better of the situation. The quiet conversation explodes into a volcano of mingled feelings as Jo recoils at the Professors words. As she yells and criticizes, though, the Professor never loses his cool. Never judges her temper, never raises his voice. Never lashes out.
First, he is blunt with his candor. Then he is gracious with her temper. Finally, he is forgiving of her rage. This is the type of man I’d like to be. Critical and gracious. Honest and kind. And while I strive to hold many of Laurie’s finer traits in hand, it the heart of the Professor I want to follow after.
There are a couple of beautiful moments in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox when the characters – extremely tactile puppets made with fur and cloth – suddenly turn into smooth plastic versions of themselves, glowing from within.
It’s not as if the film is a picture of realism, but these moments depart entirely even from the whimsical realism of the world in which they’re set. The departure from the realistic gives a sense of the character’s truer emotions, through a literal shift in their beings.
The director is effectively lying to tell the truth more fully. Showing you what isn’t really there in order to show clearer what is there underneath.
This is a technique I wish directors and writers would toy with more often. Film is such malleable medium to play around with, yet it’s rare that I see a characters inner thoughts or emotions translated or abstracted into something completely outside of the ordinary – a couple exceptions being Molly’s dancein Booksmart and Walter’s dream sequences in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.